In the season of staff holidays and parental leave, #AskSpirus tackles the hot topic of the month among independent retailers in Cambridge – how do you deal with staff cover over the summer?
When Spirus MD Tania Verdonk visited the Netherlands recently, she got a bit of a surprise. There, it is perfectly acceptable to shut up shop for a couple of weeks, simply putting a notice and details on your business door. Whether you’re in a village or a city, whether you’re a high street fashion retailer or a restaurant, it seems that not only is it the done thing among businesses – but as became quickly apparently, it’s widely accepted by potential customers too.
So we thought we would find out how it’s dealt with closer to home. We called 20 independent retailers in Cambridge, including restaurants, galleries, boutiques, wine merchants and more.
Cambridge Wine Merchants said that they were well aware of the European practice of two week shut downs – mainly because they need to account for it in their stock order management. They don’t follow suit though, ensuring cover staff are in place if needed.
The restaurants spoken to seem to have the most complex juggling to do, but all of them seemed well prepared. Pasquale Benedetto of the 12 A Club and Don Pasquale said that they have had the same summer staff coming to cover over the summer period for many years. The rest of their staff realise that they are going to have to work a bit harder so they too can have their turn to go on holiday when others will be covering for them.
There is also a noticeable change in clientele over the summer that influences how independents need to respond. Bowns of Cambridge said that they need to fill out quite a few more “tax-free” customs forms to allow overseas visitors from outside Europe to reclaim VAT, while Alison Wright of Fitzbillies said that they change some of their menus to accommodate the change in customer profile expected over the summer.
It is also clear that while eateries, service and entertainment businesses are hectic, August isn’t necessarily all that busy for our retailers. The students are away and quite a lot of regular customers also go on holiday, while parents with younger children often choose to avoid the City centre over the school break. Despite that, the atmosphere is still bustling with a new, more seasonal mix of customers, and no-one seems to be prepared to close the doors for the summer.
Pippa Sandison of Boudoir Femme said her regular staff don’t tend choose August as their preferred holiday month, generally favouring September. She adds, “We always ensure the store is well covered. The customer mix changes during August with a lot more visitors to the store whilst many of our regulars are away. It’s also buying season for the fashion business, which means I’m out quite a bit, leaving the team to manage the business during this busy seasonal month!”
Out of the 20 businesses called, four of the business owners were on holiday. None of them have modified their opening times; as Natalie Staples of Cambridge Contemporary Art says “It’s tricky but we have always been able to stay open seven days a week.”
The businesses we spoke to were unanimously in favour of business continuity – but do you think they should be? Are we becoming too business-focussed in the UK at the expense of time away? Or is it more important to keep business booming in the core tourism months? Whatever the customs on the other side of the channel, it seems that in August in Cambridge, it’s business as usual!